Shawn Thornton has been around the NHL long enough to know that Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s decision to scratch him in favor of Jordan Caron for Games 6 and 7 of the team’s seven-game series loss to the Capitals was not personal. After signing a two-year extension with the Bruins on March 19, Thornton knows he is appreciated by the coach and management, and not just for the fact that he led the NHL in fighting majors with 20. That’s why he understood Julien’s tough decision to sit the veteran spark plug in such crucial games.
“It’s not about me this time of year,” Thornton said before packing up his dressing room stall last week and heading to the offseason. “Was I disappointed I wasn’t playing? Yeah, for sure. I wanted to be in there and especially for Game 7. But he has a job to do and he has a tough job. It’s not easy to pull people out or put people in. You respect that.”
Julien told the media last week that the decision was done to provide more options for him in those games, with center Patrice Bergeron hampered by a torn oblique muscle.
“Bergy was a question mark and he wanted to play and we didn’t know how he was going to handle it,” Julien explained. “Game after game you saw him taking those faceoffs and he came right off, and that’s how touchy his situation was. We kind of wanted to make sure that if Bergy wasn’t able to finish the game we had guys moving in different positions, and we had to have Jordan ready to step up there in the line that he’s played for part of this year.
For all that Thorty brings to us, on the hockey side of it Caron was a better fit because we were already thin on the right side and Jordan can play the right side. So we wanted to be able to at least have that option if Bergy was able to continue. We had to make sure we didn’t weaken ourselves and that’s what I meant. I think Thorty did a great job on that line, but we couldn’t take a chance at that point.”
But while he respects Julien’s decision and position, that didn’t make it any easier for the two-time Stanley Cup champion, who wanted to be there for his teammates on the ice. Thornton, just like many fans, was anxious and nervous as Game 7 went to overtime.
“It’s always tougher to watch than play,” Thornton said last Friday. “I didn’t see the overtime. I was just in a room pacing. It’s definitely tougher to watch, and I still can’t believe we’re not practicing today.”
Thornton was grateful that Julien didn’t keep him in limbo, wondering until game time if he’d play.
“I found out before warm-ups and I didn’t have my six coffees, I had three,” Thornton joked. “He came and talked to me right when I got to the rink. I was more mentally ready for it. So I just go about my business and not let anyone know how you’re feeling.”
As for the Bruins losing the series and failing to repeat as champions, Thornton said he was really surprised. But while the sting of this early playoff exit will linger with him for a while, he does see a silver lining.
“I thought we were going to do it again this year,” Thornton said. “I like the core and where it is. We got guys like Luch [Milan Lucic], Krech [David Krejci], Seggy [Tyler Seguin]. Everyone’s locked up and they’re all young guys hitting their strides as far as where their careers go. I’m liking that and I’m very fortunate to be around for the next couple of years to take part in that. So I like what we have here and we’re definitely capable of big things again.”
Thornton also likes that he won’t have to worry about whether the Bruins will bring him back. Unlike when he left Anaheim in 2007 after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup that season, Thornton wanted to remain with the Bruins and not go to free agency on July 1. He has made Boston his full-time home and he wants to finish his career here.
“It’s a load off the shoulders. I’m not going to lie to you,” Thornton acknowledged. “I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had to wait to July 1 a lot of years. Being here and this being home, it’s very nice to have that. The last time I left Anaheim I knew that I wasn’t going back to Anaheim and it was exciting to get my first one-way contract. But now that we’ve been here five years, it’s great because we love this city and I didn’t want to leave. So that was a relief.”
Now he is hoping that the Bruins are able to sign his linemates for the last two seasons, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1. Thornton, Paille and Campbell have built a chemistry that has allowed them to become one of the best fourth lines in the NHL, and Thornton wants to see that line and chemistry kept in tact.
“I talked to ‘Soupy’ [Campbell] and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope he’s back,” Thornton said. “As far as Danny goes, I don’t know either, but all I do know is that it’s been an absolute pleasure playing with those two guys for the last two years. I wouldn’t be where I am -- as far as getting a new contract to come back here -- without those guys. I’m very fortunate that I played with two guys that are probably third-liners on 20-something teams. So us being on the fourth line here shows our depth, and I’m very fortunate to be on the same line as those two guys. I hope they’re back because I love playing with them. But if they’re not back I hope they get paid and they’re on a good team. I hope they’re back though, because they’re consummate teammates.”